Nymphomaniac has finally come. After months of trailers, teasers and speculation, Lars von Trier‘s first installment centering on a sex addict opens theatrically in the U.S., courtesy of Magnolia. Not to be daunted, there are other newcomers in the Specialty market as well. Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard and Mila Kunis star in Roadside’s Blood Ties, while Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda, Andy Garcia and Ray Romano star in Millennium’s Rob The Mob. Sony Classics opens Jodorowsky’s Dune this weekend, which even one competitor told me was a “must see” for cinephiles. IFC Films will open French political comedy The French Minister. And Samuel Goldwyn Films will bow Anita, a personal look at Anita Hill and the firestorm she found herself in during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings back in 1991.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. I
Director-writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Much has been said, rumored and obsessed over since Lars von Trier first quipped at an ill-fated press conference in Cannes 2011 for his previous film Melancholia that he was “going to next do a porn movie” and appeared to reference Charlotte Gainsbourg and fellow Melancholia star Kirsten Dunst as its stars. The news was the first time Gainsbourg had heard of the project — she even thought he was kidding at the time. As it developed, she joined and model turned aspiring actress Stacy Martin did as well. They both play “Joe,” a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating. Magnolia Pictures, which picked up the unfinished Nymphomaniac project at the Berlin International Film Festival last year (it also released Melancholia), will open Volume I this Friday, while Volume II will bow in the U.S. April 4. “I auditioned for the role in London and later did a screen test in Copenhagen,” said Martin, who is featured more prominently in the first Nymphomaniac installment as the younger Joe, while Gainsbourg is seen throughout Volume II. “I just had to take it,” she added. There are also two others who play Joe along with Gainsbourg and Martin. Porn actors doubles were used for the more graphic scenes. Martin said that while the film is both funny and dark, there were laughs throughout production. Von Trier, she noted, has a loyal clan, some of whom have been working with him since Breaking The Waves (1996). “Working with him is like kids being in a sandbox — you get to build and play with things,” said Skarsgård. Even no matter how dark the material. Actors are always battling fears, but he’s all about breaking those fears. Even in Breaking The Waves he had signs on the walls that said, ‘Make Mistakes.'”
Exclusive trailers, clips and screen shots abounded to a ravenous internet that has found traffic windfalls with all things von Trier. The gravy train began last year as the first images became available, fueling speculation about the film. Antics and talk about who was doing what physically with who on camera also made headlines. So, awareness of the film is probably about as good as it can be. Volume I has grossed over $9 million in the territories it has opened overseas. Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) cumed over $3 million theatrically in the U.S. (nearly $16M worldwide). Vol. I is already available via VOD and both Vol. I and Vol. II will be available via iTunes Friday. Whether audiences will choose to view the carnal journey at home or in a theater remains to be seen, though Magnolia’s Matt Cowal noted that Vol. I, which is available on both cable VOD and digital platforms such as FlixFling, is “performing quite nicely.” Added Cowal: “People can start out in the theater and finish off at home so to speak…” More Nymphomaniac: Vol. II details will be featured in this column ahead of its April 4 theatrical bow.
Jodorowsky’s Dune brings conclusion to an ill-fated 1970s project that was $2 million in the hole. Frank Pavich’s documentary recalls Chilean-born filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, which was to star Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí and others with a score by Pink Floyd. The financiers backed out and ultimately collapsed Dune was eventually filmed by David Lynch (and was a box office disappointment). Pavich was fascinated by the story and a fan of Jodorowsky. He searched the internet to locate the filmmaker, eventually finding an agent based in Spain who had contact with him. The agent gave him an email, which was later returned. “I was terrified and I left it unread for a good week,” said Pavich. “I was scared because what if he said no or even worse, that someone else was working on it.” Eventually opening the email, Jodorowsky said that if he wanted to do a project on him, he’d have to meet him in Paris where he lives, which he did. ” I explained in about 10 to 15 minutes that I was a fan and what a great story I thought it would be,” said Pavich. “He said that he thought it would be a ‘great idea,’ but told me that he didn’t have any art work from the movie and if you don’t have art work, there can’t be a movie.” Jodorowsky suggested contacting his Dune producer, Michel Seydoux. The challenge, however, was that the two had not spoken since the project collapsed and that Seydoux “hated him.” Jodorowsky said that Seydoux had sunk $2 million into the project, so he must “still be upset.” “I went home and found that Seydoux has a production company in Paris,” said Pavich. “I set up a meeting and went into his office and the first thing I saw as I came in were two framed art works from Dune in the reception area. I went into the conference room and found more and then throughout the office I saw even more. Seydoux has produced all these movies, but this is the one that still covers his walls in his office the most. I thought, ‘there’s no way he hates Alejandro.'” In fact, Seydoux had thought that Jodorowsky hated him and had failed him. “So in the course of shooting we reunited these guys and it rekindled their friendship and relationship.” (As an aside, the two later collaborated on Jodorowsky’s latest, The Dance Of Reality).
In the course of his research, building the production and peace-making, Pavich learned of two other would-be films about the ill-fated Dune, confirming his initial fears. ” I think it’s because I went there and presented myself that allowed me to get it,” said Pavich. “[Jodorowsky] only went by his instinct. He’s never asked me to this day about my past work.” Pavich added that he and his executive producer put up the money. “It was a labor of love,” he concluded. The film played at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and Sony Classics picked up the film last June. It will open in limited release this weekend followed by a slow expansion.
Director-writer: Guillaume Canet
Writers: James Gray, Jacques Maillot, Pierre Chosson, Eric Veniard, Bruno Papet, Michel Papet
Cast: Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Noah Emmerich, Lili Taylor, Zoe Saldana
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Blood Ties will take an art house route as it rolls out in the U.S. theatrically, though it will also go day and date. The crime-thriller follows two brothers. One is a cop, the other a criminal and the two face off against a backdrop of organized crime in Brooklyn during the ’70s. “We’re getting it out there based on it being from a popular French filmmaker aspect and the cast,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “It’s a film festival movie that will appeal to an art house crowd as opposed to being a mainstream crime drama.” Cohen said fans of period dramas, filmmaker Guillaume Canet and its stars will also head to theaters to see the movie. “A cinephile audience that like [Canet's] Tell No One and upscale hits like Cotillard’s La Vie en Rose or Rust And Bone will find this appealing,” he added. Tell No One eventually grossed nearly $6.2M domestically after it was released in July, 2008 (and a sizable $33.4M worldwide). Owen and Crudup are the main duo appearing in the film as villain and good guy. They are also doing the bulk of the press. “We’ll continue to roll it out in additional markets in subsequent weeks,” said Cohen.
The French Minister
Director-writer: Bertrand Tavernier
Writer: Christophe Blain, Antonin Baudry (as Abel Lanzac)
Cast: Thierry Lhermitte, Raphaël Personnaz, Niels Arestrup, Bruno Raffaelli, Julie Gayet, Anaïs Demoustier
Distributor: IFC Films
The French Minister (U.S. title) started out as a comic book based on the time writer Antonin Baudry spent in the Quai d’Orsay (also the title of the comic), which is roughly France’s equivalent to the U.S. State Department location, Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C. Baudry wrote the book under the pseudonym of Abel Lanzac based on his experiences in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I worked [in the government] and three years later had the idea about making a comic book [based on] the experience,” said Baudry. “I contacted an artist (illustrator Christophe Blain) and we did it together. At first we thought it would be just for fun, but we sold some copies. But then a friend of Bertrand Tavernier gave him the book and loved it and contacted me about doing an adaptation.” Baudry said that he initially wasn’t sure an adaptation would work, but after meeting with Tavernier — a giant figure in the French film world — he came around after he realized both their visions were in sync. Baudry said his comic is meant to be funny, but still shows the work that civil servants on up do. “We can have fun with their [characters] but still show them and their work,” he said. A first draft adaptation was completed in ten days of intense writing, though the final script took about a year to finish. “We didn’t eat much except for Indian food at one point,” said Baudry. “Then it took one year to make changes and move things around. But the core of the work was very fast and intense, much like the same atmosphere as described in the film — frantic, joyful and humorous…I’d tell stupid things and Bertrand would say we should put it in.”
The writing process began in 2011 and shooting started in November 2012 and completed in January 2013. Titled Quai d’Orsay, the film premiered at Toronto last fall and soon after at the San Sebastián International Film Festival where it won Best Screenplay. The film closed the recent Rendez Vous with French cinema series in New York. It won a Best Supporting Actor César for Niels Arestrup and César nominations for Best Supporting Actress for Julie Gayet (who incidentally made waves in the Quai d’Orsay and beyond after it was revealed she was involved with French President François Hollande) and the writing trio. The film will open exclusively Stateside on Friday exclusively at IFC Center and will be available simultaneously on VOD. The U.S. release of Quai d’Orsay (titled: Weapons Of Mass Diplomacy) will take place May 6 through publisher SelfMadeHero.
Over two decades after sexual harassment made it to the forefront of nationwide discussion during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings, the woman at the center of the 1991 controversy Anita Hill returns to the public eye as the subject of Freida Lee Mock’s appropriately titled, Anita. The documentary both recalls the hearings where “pubic hair on a coke can” and “high-tech lynching” made headlines. Though the episode in the nation’s history didn’t end well for Ms. Hill (Thomas, of course is now on the Supreme Court) it did thrust the issue of sexual harassment into societal debate. The film looks at Hill (who is a professor of law at Brandeis) both then and now. “She’s been living her life but is aware of the context of life she lives in, and she’s someone who is very adept about speaking to that context in a coherent and eloquent way,” said Samuel Goldwyn Films exec Peter Goldwyn. “There’s also a generation of women who she has helped kick doors open for and she’s a real hero to them. They’re professionals, leaders in government and throughout society.” Part of that group of women include Goldwyn’s mother, who was excited when her son told her Samuel Goldwyn Films would be involved with the feature by Mock, who won an Oscar in 1995 for Best Documentary for Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision in addition to several Oscar nominations. “I knew we wouldn’t have an issue of raising awareness, but a bit surprised how good support has been,” said Goldwyn, who added that news outlets and talk shows from the New York Times, L.A. Times, The Daily Show, CBS This Morning, The View, Katie Couric, NPR, Huffington Post and more have been on Hill’s interview circuit in the lead-up to this weekend’s theatrical roll out.
Anita Hill will take part in Q&As at select screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln and Angelika in New York where it is playing as will New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who was outspoken in her criticism of how Hill was treated. The film will also play at Laemmle theaters in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Encino as well as the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley and Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. It will head to Atlanta, Chicago, Boston Washington, D.C. and other locations April 4.
“After I read the script, I thought, ‘Wow, could this really be a true story?'” said Rob The Mob producer Bill Teitler. Based on a true story, the crime-drama centers on a Queen, NY couple who specialize in robbing mafia social clubs and stumble on a score bigger than they could ever imagine, becoming targets simultaneously of the mob and the FBI. “My interest was piqued at that point. It has that truth is stranger than fiction quality,” added Teitler. The script had come to Teitler from writer Jonathan Fernandez’s manager. He met City Island filmmaker Raymond De Felitta who came on board to direct in late summer 2011. Teitler had produced a number of studio and TV titles, but segued into the indie realm with What Maisie Knew in 2012. Michael Pitt joined early on to star followed by Nina Arjanda. “Our model [actress] was Marisa Tomei just before doing My Cousin Vinnie, and Michael Pitt was born to play this role,” added Teitler. De Felitta had worked with Andy Garcia on City Island and boarded the production. Ray Romano also joined (he and Arjanda share an agent) and financing came together after the cast was in place. “Raymond was terrifically resourceful. We knew that a movie comes together in the cutting room, and David [Leonard], Raymond and I went through a lot of iterations.”
Millennium acquired What Maisie Knew at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 and Teitler approached them with Rob The Mob at AFM later that fall. “They were looking to establish relationships with producers and not just be in acquisition mode,” said Teitler, who said the company took on the project. “That was huge to have a domestic distributor in place.” Initial shots were completed over Xmas, while the bulk of photography took place between May and June 2013 over 25 days. The film closed the Miami International Film Festival last Saturday, playing the cavernous Gusman Theater in downtown Miami. “The thrill was seeing the film in front of over 1500 film-goers who truly loved it. It was the true validation of the film.” Rob The Mob will open in limited release in New York and LA, expanding to other cities the following week.